Echoing Connections serves individuals with disabilities in Athens County. The pattern on the banner are the actual wheelchair tracks of the people they work with.

Developmental Disability Festival Welcomes Record Turnout

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Around 300 people and representatives from 50 organizations gathered Tuesday night in the Athens Community Center gymnasium for the 2018 Developmental Disability Festival, making for the festival’s biggest turnout to date. The decade-old festival, has been growing in popularity with  around 250 people attended the festival in 2017.

A wide range of people attended the event, including the disabled, representatives of government agencies, elected officials, and Ohio University students.

Members of the community participate in the activities provided by organizations to raise awareness for people with disabilities.

Kevin Davis, superintendent for the Athens County Board of Developmental Disability said Athens County is ahead of other counties in accessibility for the disabled.

“It is the most progressive, dynamic, and supportive community in Southeast Ohio,” he said. “We work all over the state with different counties, and even some of the more urban areas in Ohio aren’t as progressive or supportive as Athens is when it comes to individuals with intellectual or physical disabilities.”

Those with disabilities had the opportunity to learn how providers could improve their every-day lives.  A number of agencies and providers showcased their services: Athens County Children Services, PersonnelPlus Advocacy and Advisory Council, Down Syndrome Association of Central Ohio, Autism Society, Echoing Connections, and Friends, Allies, Neighbors (FANS).

Some of these organizations, such as FANS and Echoing Connections, help those with disabilities live less separated lives. That theme was evident throughout the festival, and celebrated with a performance from the Athens County Community Choir, featuring both the disabled and nondisabled.

Davis said the ACBDD is also fortunate to have a partnership with Ohio University that provides students, student-teachers, social workers, and community health majors who give back to the community.

Members of the Athens County Community Choir sing at the festival.

OU Sparkles, a cheerleading team made up of Ohio University students and community members, once again attended the festival to offer support for those with disabilities.

OU Sparkles member Kelsey Tetmeyer said the event is about respecting the disabled as equals.

“I think it is the only way you’re going to have a functioning community,” she said. “If people support each other, and when people include each other and treat them as equals, not just babying people or thinking they are lesser.”

Davis said those with disabilities enjoy more access in Athens, but face more challenges outside the city limits. David McNelly, a social worker for ACBDD, said the organization has begun conducting accessibility audits in an effort to improve compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act. 

“I think people are really receptive and open to making those changes,” he said.

He said accessibility in Athens is particularly challenging because of its hills and brick streets. He said he is asking for Mayor Steve Patterson’s help in addressing future projects planned for the city.